Women's Rights

Female journalists broadcast women's voices, vow to 'occupy public sphere'

By Salaam Times and AFP

Radio Begum female staff members say they will continue their work without fear and intend to 'occupy the public sphere'. [Stringer/AFPTV/AFP]

KABUL -- Staff members of Radio Begum, a radio station that broadcasts the voices of women from Kabul, have vowed to continue fighting for the rights of Afghan women.

Their determination has carried them since the previous Afghan government fell in August.

Station staff fill the airwaves with programming for women, by women. They include educational shows, book readings and call-in counselling.

"We're not giving up," pledged Hamida Aman, 48, the station's founder, who grew up in Switzerland. Her family fled Afghanistan a few years after the former Soviet Union invaded their country.

This picture taken on November 28 shows students attending an on-air class at Radio Begum in Kabul. [Hector Retamal/AFP]

This picture taken on November 28 shows students attending an on-air class at Radio Begum in Kabul. [Hector Retamal/AFP]

This picture taken on November 28 shows station director Saba Chaman (R) and her colleague working in a studio at Radio Begum in Kabul. [Hector Retamal/AFP]

This picture taken on November 28 shows station director Saba Chaman (R) and her colleague working in a studio at Radio Begum in Kabul. [Hector Retamal/AFP]

"We have to show that we don't need to be scared," said Aman, who returned to Afghanistan after 2001.

"We must occupy the public sphere," she said.

'Vessel for voices'

The station was founded this year on March 8, International Women's Day, five months before the downfall of the then-government.

It continues to broadcast across Kabul and surrounding areas -- and live on Facebook.

"Begum", which has a Turkish root and means lady, was a noble title used in South Asia and Iran and is still used for married women.

"This station is a vessel for women's voices, their pain, their frustrations," Aman said.

Radio Begum has some 10 employees who used to share an office with male colleagues who worked for a youth radio station.

Now they are separated. Each gender has its own floor, and an opaque curtain has been installed in front of the women's office.

Pop music has given way to traditional songs and "quieter music", Aman said.

Nevertheless, staff members said working at the station was a "privilege", especially given that many female civil servants are barred from returning to offices.

Most public secondary schools for girls have been shut since the takeover, leading to a surge in depression and other mental health woes among girls.

But twice a day, the radio studio resembles a classroom.

When AFP visited, six girls and three boys -- all aged 13 or 14 -- pored over their books as the presenter gave an on-air lesson about social justice.

"Social justice is opposed to extremism," said the 19-year-old teacher, a journalism student until a few months ago.

'Golden opportunity'

Mursal, a 13-year-old girl, has been going to the studio to study since secondary schools are still closed to girls.

"My message to girls who can't go to school is to listen to our programme carefully, to use this golden chance and opportunity," she said.

"They may not have it again."

There are also on-air lessons for adults.

In one such lesson, station director Saba Chaman, 24, read the autobiography of Michelle Obama in Dari.

She is particularly proud of a show where listeners call in for psychological counselling.

In 2016, just 18% of women in Afghanistan were literate, compared to 62% of men, according to the former Education Ministry.

"Women who are illiterate are like blind people," one woman who cannot read said on air.

"When I go to the pharmacy, they give me expired medication. If I could read, they wouldn't do it."

However, the future of their radio station is uncertain, Aman said.

In September, the country's leading independent TV station, TOLOnews, reported that more than 150 outlets were shut down over restrictions or financial troubles.

Radio Begum no longer has any advertising revenue.

If it cannot make any money within the next three months, the voices of these women will disappear from the airwaves of Afghanistan, Chaman said.

"My only cause for hope at the moment is knowing that I'm doing something important in my life to help Afghan women."

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Our voice must be free. If the women continue their work, the women may have work, and they will earn their monthly salaries, but it cannot tell the pain of the people of Afghanistan. There is no freedom of speech in Afghanistan. No one can raise their voice. Radios cannot broadcast the way they used to do before. Well done again for these women who feel so responsible. Journalists always convey people's voices to the world through radios and televisions, and unfortunately, there is no freedom of speech in Afghanistan. As it is necessary, no one can express the truth.


It is true that the Begum radio still activates and broadcasts, but the point is not only that a media outlet should post 24 hours. The main point is that the media outlets who published now should implement Taliban's laws, while the Taliban neither know anything in the name of freedom of media nor they have ever touched it. What the Taliban now know is the vast bribery in the departments. So, the point is that the Begum radio that activates is not the same as it was before. Neither women can say what they like to say, nor can they say anything that suits the framework of media. It is not so important to broadcast advice and anthems all day. The media outlets need to speak on the realities, take people's issues and deliver them to the authorities. It is important to raise women's and children's rights; however, none of these are discussed in the Afghan media because the Taliban allows it. They tell the people only one thing, "we have not promised to provide you with food," and they show they do not have any responsibility in the country. On one side, they consider themselves the in-charges, and on the other side, they do not accept responsibility to feed the people. Another one of them says, "shout to God." The country cannot be built with shouting; it needs a plan and program. It needs regular work and a budget.


Maryam Begum (Shaghnani) (title: Niratul Haram) Nik Adam Begum (Hazara) (title: ) Baso Begum (Hazara) (title: ) Mamlakat Begum (Shaghnani) (title: ) Rabili Begum (Hazara) (title: ) Shabo Begum (Hazara) (title: Rehnatul Haram) Sanobar Begum (Hazara) (title: Nukhbatul Haram) Sawar Begum (Chitrali) (title: Dawlatul Haram) Gul Chehra Begum (Nuristani) (title: ) Sitara Begum (Shaghnani) (title: ) Sultanat Begum (title: ) Kawik Begum (Nuristani) (title: ) Hamshahi Begum (Nuristani) (title: ) Bulbul Begum (Nuristani) (title: Nakhlul Haram) Astani Begum (Nuristani) Shamshad Begum (Nuristani) (title: Zainul Haram) Marjan Begum (Nuristani) (title: Sabhatul Haram) Similarly, the names of his daughters also have the term Begum with it as a number of them are as follow: Safoora Begum, Qamarul Banaat (daughter of Gulchehra Begum), wife of Shah Mahmood Khan Ghazi Sahera Begum, Sarajul Banaat (daughter of queen Sarwar Sultana), second wife of General Ali Ahmad Jan Shaghasi, title: Taaj Afghan Safia Begum, title Samaratu Saraj (daughter of queen Sarwar Sultana), wife of Marshal Shah Wali Khan Ghazi Razia Begum, title Noorul Saraj (daughter of queen Sarwar Sultana), wife of Sardar Mohammad Hasan Jan Zohra Begum (daughter of Nawab Jan) passed away in her childhood. Gawhar Begum (daughter of Zarin Begum) wife of Safdar Khan, son of Sardar Juma Khan Shah Jahan Begum (daughter of Zarin Begum), second wife of Ghulam Haidar Khan Etimadi, son of General Sardar Abdul Qudoos Khan and Tajwar B


The new government should preserve the women's achievements gained during the past twenty years and defend it the way one keeps the blood of a sacred martyr. Men and women together have made many efforts to gain these achievements. In your report, you have called the term Begum an Iranian term which is not correct. What do we have to do with South Asia and Iran? Iran may get lost together with its name. Iran has always caused difficulties to Afghans, so please do not try to propagate in favor of Iran. The term Begum has a history of more than a hundred years inside Afghanistan. You can see the names of the wives of the former Afghan King Habibullah Khan, father of king Amanullah Khan who were entitled with the title of Begum; Jamal Begum (title: Badrul Haram shujaat sahib Aali Jinah) Wazir Begum (title: Nawab Jan) Sarwar Sultana Begum (title: Sarajul Khawatin, her majesty) Zohra Begum (title: Sartajul Haram, her majesty), daughter of Mir Sura Baig A Chitrali wife (title: unknown) Daughter of Akbar Khan Momand from LaalPoora (title: ) Mahbooba Begum (title: Noorul Haram, her majesty) Zarin Taj (title: Asmatul Haram) Aalia Begum (title: her highness) Adiko Begum, daughter of Asil Khan, a tribal elder from Paktia (title: ) Begum Jan, second daughter of Mir Mohammad Ali Yaftali (title: ) Zarin Begum (Hazara) (title: ) Zamarud Begum (Shaghnani) (title: ) Khair Bano Begum (Hazara) (title: ) Sandal Begum (Chitrali) (title: ) Yasmin Begum (Nuristani) (title: Nuhzatul Haram) Maimo